Online censorship: ban on reporting parallel exchange rates


The National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) issued a censorship order on 9 November for websites reporting parallel exchange rates. Administrative proceedings have also been initiated against Internet Service Providers allowing access to these websites. CONATEL chief Pedro Maldonado said 50 websites were concerned by the measure.

In a 9 November televised address, President Nicolas Maduro announced that “through the Ministry of Science and Technology, we are protecting our country’s network and Internet, and we are taking the following websites off line: dolartoday.com, tucavidi.com, lechugaverde.biz, dolarparalelo.org and preciodolar.info…” These websites can no longer be accessed from within Venezuela, however they remain accessible from abroad.

In line with this rhetoric, the government refers to media reports about the parallel dollar rate and the current shortages as a “conspiracy” or a “plot” requiring appropriate reprisals. “The parallel dollar is a fictitious dollar, a fake dollar, created to foster the ongoing economic war,”the President said.

This major act of censorship comes amid a grave economic crisis. The Venezuelan government sets a fixed exchange rate for the US dollar that has differed from the international market rate since 2003. The difference between the official rate and the parallel rate (the real rate) is now enormous.

To justify the measure, the authorities are claiming that publishing parallel dollar exchange rates violates article 27 of the Radio, TV and Electronic Media Social Responsibility Law RESORTEMEC.

This article includes a ban on the dissemination of reports liable to “spread panic within the population or disturb public order.” It also holds Internet Service Providers responsible for the content on the websites they host.

CONATEL added that the law on illicit exchange rates bans currency transfers at rates different from the officially established ones. The NGO Espacio Público has pointed out the law does not prohibit mentioning the unofficial dollar rate, which is furthermore of public interest. While it is true that websites are reporting black-market dollar exchange rates, the publication of such information is not illegal, and the Venezuelan government is clearly applying censorship measures.

Bellow is a screenshot of the exchange rate published by one of the censored websites.

http://www.lechugaverde.biz/

"Since the closure of all brokerage firms in Venezuela by the Bolivarian government in 2010, all foreign currency selling outlets outlets, and even information about foreign currency, have been banned. Persons or businesses using the unoficial exchange rate be punished with seven years in prison or more.

Venezuela is ranked 117th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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